Aug 29 2011

Bathroom Issues

Category: humoramuzikman @ 8:00 am

I visited my daughter the other night.  Her apartment is outfitted with a dual flush toilet.  These are an originally Australian invention in which the user has a choice between what amounts to a half-flush or a full flush, depending on the nature and quantity of the contents of the bowl.  The goal is, of course, to use only the flushing power needed, thereby conserving water.  One has only to push one of two buttons on the top of the tank.  There is even a small graphic on the buttons to help in proper selection.  I visited Australia some years back so was at least familiar enough with them to understand the workings, though this was the first time I had used one in the USA.  I was grateful I had some experience from which to draw.  I could only shudder thinking what it would have been like to stick my head out of the bathroom door and yell, “Hey Honey, what’s with the two buttons on your toilet ?”  Comments like that are almost guaranteed to get your kids thinking they may need to start looking for a nice assisted living facility for you.

Up until then I hadn’t given toilets much thought.  As long as there is a clean one reasonably nearby when I need one, I’m happy.  I will, however,  reluctantly confess I did snicker when someone told me the toilet was invented by a guy named Crapper, though I never bothered to find out whether that was true or not.  Bottom line – a toilet is a toilet and no one worries about theirs unless it becomes clogged, at which point it demands your full attention.

But this choice of flushes really got me thinking, so I stood there considering my options.  My first inclination was to simply give the toilet a full flush, wash my hands and get on with whatever I was doing. I suppose that is a reflection of my age and having an “old-school” attitude about toilets.  The dual-flush toilet was not around when I was growing up. But upon further reflection I thought perhaps I should go for the half-flush, it just seemed the more responsible and “green” choice.  But what if a half-flush ended up being insufficient for the task at hand, so to speak?  What if I had to flush a second time?  And what if the two half-flushes used up more water than a single full flush?  Or what if I opted for the full flush, knowing it was more than was needed?  Would I later feel guilty for having wasted water?  Would I then feel compelled to perform an act of penance, like 3 days of half-flushes only, no matter what?

This is also not the kind of thing you can ask others about.  “So, hey, Jim, do you find the half-flush is sufficient to meet most of your bathroom needs?”  This is not going to happen.  And there are no posted guidelines.  It would be nice if there were some sort of written assistance, or even a website to visit (not right at that moment of course, but later, when there is time to seek more information on flushing etiquette).   Perhaps a little booklet left in the bathroom, right next to “Jokes For The John” , on top of the October, 1996 National Geographic and the March, 2006 Reader’s Digest.  It shouldn’t be too technical or folks like me will be even more intimidated.  Let’s face it, if the booklet is called “Flush vs. Half-Flush: A Comparative Analysis,” I’m going opt for the National Geographic.  But if it has a happy, Dr. Seuss sort of cover with a title like, “Half Flush, Whole Flush, Tank Flush, Bowl Flush” it might help make the experience a little more user-friendly.

Fortunately the flushing choice dilemma has, in large, been alleviated by government regulation.  We are now required, by law, to purchase so called “low flow” toilets.  These amount to toilets with a half-flush-only mechanism, which is a source of frustration in situations that clearly call for a full flush.  And in commercial establishments I am now seeing more non-flush bathroom fixtures.  It really alleviates the stress of worrying about water use or which button to push.  It also gives the restroom facility that nostalgic “Greyhound Bus Station” aroma.

All this does lead one to try and imagine what the next step in bathroom evolution will be.  Perhaps the bathroom will go the way of the phone booth.  Perhaps the government will make certain bodily functions illegal, eliminating (pun intended) the need for bathrooms all together.  Whatever the brave new world before us I’m sure our government will continue to make wise and appropriate choices on our behalf.  And, since I cannot even comfortably choose between two flushing options I welcome federal guidelines in this area.  I’m sure you agree.


Aug 28 2011

Some Straightforward Talk

Category: economy,Obamaamuzikman @ 8:00 am

Andy Pudzer, CEO of CKE Restaurants Inc

The case is presented in a very clear way.  No rhetoric, just facts.

The policies of President Obama are having a significantly negative effect on our economy.


Aug 27 2011

Politicizing the Weather

Category: politics,Weatheramuzikman @ 8:00 am

I think politicians learned one significant message during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  If you are a person holding public office you must not be perceived as underestimating the threat an approaching hurricane.   Never mind what may or may not be factual, sadly that seems to have taken a back seat to political weather posturing (for lack of a better term).  Whatever your opinion of George Bush, some of the claims made about his culpability in the Hurricane Katrina disaster were frankly absurd.  But everyone else got the message loud and clear.  The result?  Rational assessment and appropriate preparation have been replaced by politically driven psuedo-hysteria.  Hurricane Irene is very likely not going to be the biggest storm in the last 50 years to touch the eastern seaboard.

Are all these orders and actions by prominent politicians an appropriate response to hurricane Irene?  Time will tell, but there is already evidence that the virtually apocalyptic predictions may not be realized.  Will there be damage? Sure. Deaths? I hope not. But we are setting up a “Boy Who Cried Wolf” scenario if we sound an unnecessarily shrill alarm for a storm that may not deserve it, thereby creating a populace that learns to ignore or downplay the warnings when a real monster comes ashore.


Aug 27 2011

Why go to college?

Category: Uncategorizedharmonicminer @ 1:29 am


Aug 26 2011

Hat tip to Sister Toldjah

Category: Uncategorizedharmonicminer @ 3:43 pm

Sister Toldjah a blog that posted both my son’s video/rap song, Money Madness, and also one called Doorbell, which has gotten hundreds of thousands of views.  Nice company to be in!  Money Madness never quite managed to get posted on the Powerlineblog site directly, but they did include it in their youtube channel, which is nice.

If you need a laugh over the federal spending mess, check it out at the link above, and while you’re at it, get acquainted with Sister Toldjah’s site.  A larger version of Money Madness is here.


Aug 24 2011

China’s military buildup

Category: China,military,national security,Obamaharmonicminer @ 8:53 pm

China on track for modern military by 2020: U.S.

China appears on track to forge a modern military by 2020, a rapid buildup that could be potentially destabilizing to the Asia-Pacific region, the Pentagon said on Wednesday.

Fueled by its booming economy, China’s military growth in the past decade has exceeded most U.S. forecasts. Its aircraft carrier program, cyber warfare capabilities and anti-satellite missiles have alarmed neighbors and Washington.

Some China watchers, including members of the U.S. Congress, note with apprehension that rising Chinese defense spending coincides with Washington’s plans for defense cuts.

This is nothing new.  Amuzikman has already posted here the gist of an exchange between Obama and Chinese Premier Hu on the occasion of Hu’s visit to the USA.

All chuckles aside, this is really no laughing matter

I think this recent news shows that China is a more serious problem than some want to admit.  Given that it is the Pentagon that produced this report, and it is the Pentagon that has been listening to Thomas P.M. Barnett (perhaps rather more than it should have been), maybe this is a sign that some degree of realistic understanding is developing of the long term nature of Chinese intentions.

The Chinese think LONG TERM, in a way almost no American can quite understand.  

One thing I don’t get about the folks who think China isn’t a big problem is this:  intelligence types talk about both capabilities and intentions.  It used to be we mistrusted Chinese intentions, but didn’t think their capabilities were close enough to ours to be a real danger.  Now that Chinese capabilities are growing fast, analysts like Barnett seem to want us to think less suspiciously of Chinese intentions.  That kind of wishful thinking seems a poor substitute for actual, hard planning about what we’ll do as a nation regarding a China with high capabilities AND bad intentions.

Given that we KNOW who China supports, who China funds, what China wants, and what China’s history is in the last 50 years of working against US and western interests, this notion that all China really wants to do is sell us stuff, and they’re only building a modern military to increase their self-esteem, seems like whistling in the dark to me.

I keep thinking about this.


Aug 24 2011

Two stories on the disaster that is the California public employee pension morass

If you’re a lefty, you might be inclined to dismiss this first story, since it’s posted at BIGOVERNMENT.COM, and so biased to the right (although lefties continue to trust the New York Times and the LA Times… funny, that). But the second story, below, is based on a Standford University study…. and we all know what a hotbed of ultra-rightwing radicalism is found at Stanford.  I hate that the state has done this, because I have some family members who are counting on the state system to work properly.  That is, however, what comes of trusting Democrats to run a budget, let alone make financial projections into the next decade.

» California Admits to Almost $1 Trillion in Unfunded Pension Obligations

 

The three largest California public retiree plans (CalPERS, CalSTRS, and UCRS) that administer pensions of approximately 2.6 million State and Local public current and retired employees have been under tremendous scrutiny since last year’s release of the Stanford University Institute for Public Policy report: “Going For Broke”. The study concluded that California retirement plans liability was under-funded by over $500 billion.

The report blamed most of the shortfall on the pension plan’s expectation of future annual investment returns of 7.75%; versus a realistic expectation of a 4.14% annual return. The cabal of California politicians, bureaucrats, and crony consultants that justified granting lucrative benefits to employees while failing to contribute enough to support the true pension costs; solemnly dismissed the Stanford report as unsophisticated reflections by academics. But now that a swarm of local governments want to abandon the floundering retirement trusts; the State plans are only willing to credit a 3.8% expected return. If the California State pension plans adopted the same 3.8% rate they are only willing to credit when participants want to leave; their published $288 billion in pension shortfall would metastasize into an $884 billion California State insolvency.

It doesn’t take a Stanford MBA to realize producing consistently high investment returns since 2007 has been a difficult in the extreme. The California State pension plans that currently control $432 billion in assets, suffered a $109.7 billion in losses during the 2008 to 2009 recession. Pension plans normally require employers and their employees to mutually increase contributions to make up pension shortfalls. But public pension plans are notorious for not requiring employees to make significant contribution. California police, prison guards, firemen, and lifeguards can retire at age 50, but have never been required to contribute to fund pensions. With headlines that California plans are in big trouble; many government agencies applied to withdrawal from the State plans. But as calculated below; compounding investments at 7.75% grows to more than three times the amount of compounding investments at a 3.8% rate of return.

When I was elected as Orange County, California Treasurer in 2006, I was flabbergasted to discover that the County’s $8 billion of retirement investments was covertly leveraged up by $22 billion of derivatives. I quickly learned that many unions see pension benefits as contracted rights; and pension investing as a no risk crap-shoot for extraordinary returns.

 

If the pension investment returns sky-rocket, the unions will bargain for increased benefits. If the pension investment returns crash; the public employees are protected by rock-solid contract law that prevents any reduction in benefits. In 2007, I was fortunate to gain the support of enough OC Pension Trustees to reduce speculative derivative use by 90%. At the time, Trustees for the California public pension plans solemnly dismissed Orange County as unsophisticated. Shortly thereafter the stock market crashed and the State Pension Trustees stopped making comments.

Once famous as the Golden State for leading the nation in high tech growth industries that provided excellent wages; California is now tarnished for having the second highest unemployment and worst state credit rating in the nation. Forbes recently quoted a top venture capitalist that compared the California business climate to France: “I try not to hire here, and I certainly would not launch a company here. But the wine is good.” Tripling of the burden for under-funded pension liability to almost $1 trillion will probably ruin the taste of California wine for most taxpayers.

 

California state pension funds going broke, Stanford study finds

 

California state pension funds going broke, Stanford study finds

New calculations by Stanford graduate students show that California’s three main public employee pension funds are in more dire financial trouble than previously believed.

L.A. Cicero
Howard Bornstein and Lisha Wang 

 

Students Howard Bornstein and Lisha Wang spoke with reporters after a news conference where they and the other members of their research group announced their findings about the state retirement system.

BY GWYNETH DICKEY

California public employee pension systems are worse off than anyone previously projected, according to a new report generated by five graduate students in Stanford’s graduate Public Policy Program. The result could be greater pressure on the state budget and a shortage of pension funds in the future.

“This is a really dire situation,” graduate student Howard Bornstein said today at a press conference at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR), which is publishing the students’ findings. “If we don’t do something now, we’re going to have major issues in just a few years.”

Bornstein and his fellow graduate students examined public records of past performance of three pension funds – the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) and the University of California Retirement System (UCRS), which together administer pensions for approximately 2.6 million Californians.

The students ran computer simulations to predict the unfunded liabilities of the pension funds over the next 16 years.

Major investment needed

“The simulation shows that the state would need to invest more than $200 billion, and possibly as much as $350 billion, today to return the fund to a minimum responsible level of funding,” said Bornstein, who noted that the figure is approximately four times the current state budget.

“It’s an enormous number,” said Joe Nation, a public policy lecturer at SIEPR and the adviser for the research team. He said it’s important to look at the shortfall relative to state resources. Pension funds fluctuate with market performance, but state employees are guaranteed a fixed pension regardless. If the market performs poorly, the state is obligated to step in and provide the missing pension funds. That takes money away from other public projects, such as education and healthcare, Nation said.

“The students did an amazing job providing a better sense of unfunded liability for those three pension funds, and I hope observers out there will begin to understand that this is a financial train wreck that is not very far down the tracks,” Nation said.

In the report, Bornstein and his fellow graduate students suggest policies to fix the shortfall and prevent a similar one in the future.

They propose that the managers of the pension funds project more realistic rates of return, which would indicate higher liabilities in the future.

“The whole approach that the state currently uses is inherently flawed. They look at averages as opposed to a fan of outcomes,” said Bornstein. “If you instead look at the range of outcomes in the future, you’d see there’s over a 60 percent chance of a deficit greater than $250 billion for CalPERS alone. This is something that really scares us.”

The students suggest that the minimum level of caution should be for the pension systems to aim for an 80 percent probability of having at least 80 percent of the funds necessary to cover the pensions. They also advocate investing more conservatively, taking fewer risks.

“Funds in other parts of the country are in similar situations, and they are beginning to invest in riskier assets,” Nation said. “That’s exactly the wrong thing to do. If the market doesn’t perform well, the taxpayer ends up paying.”

Suggested fixes

The students suggest either reducing pension benefits or moving to a hybrid system in which retirees receive a smaller fixed pension combined with a 401(k)-style plan. This would relieve some of the burden on the state and give employees more responsibility for their retirement. Two-thirds of Californians would support such a plan, according to a poll by the Public Policy Institute of California.

“The biggest challenge with this is making sure elected officials understand the severity of the problem,” Nation said. “It’s a political hot potato and most politicians shy away from the issue because you offend a lot of the constituencies by acknowledging the problem exists.”

But, he said, citizens and institutions are increasingly aware of the situation and are speaking out.

“The University of California is engaged in this debate because they finally understand that as pension fund benefits grow, there will be fewer dollars for higher education,” Nation said.

The report was prepared for the Office of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as part of the Graduate Practicum in Public Policy, a two-quarter sequence required for master’s degree students in the Public Policy and International Policy Studies programs.

In addition to the masters’  program in Public Policy, Bornstein will earn his Masters in Business Administration degree this June.

SIEPR conducts research on important economic policy issues facing the United States and other countries. SIEPR’s goal is to inform policymakers and to influence their decisions with long-term policy solutions.

What’s funny is the heading above, “major investment needed.”  The left wants to make a major investment, alright.  An Obama-style investment, called enormous tax hikes to fund impossible promises made to public employee unions.

Something will have to give.  Higher taxes to fund impossible-to-fulfill promises will just postpone the disaster, and not by very long.  A complete, structural, top-to-bottom readjustment is needed, and people have to lose the idea that they can work for 30 years and retire at the age of 55 and still get paid till they die at 95.


Aug 23 2011

Gee, Tom, d’ya think maybe the media was a little biased for Obama?

Category: election 2012,media,Obamaharmonicminer @ 3:44 pm

Thomas Friedman re Obama’s “vetting” by media during his campaign in 2008

During the 2008 presidential election season, many Americans were captivated by then-candidate Barack Obama’s promises of hope and change. And some would argue that much of the media were taken in by the promises too. Nearly three years into the Obama presidency, is it fair to say the media were duped?

On Sunday’s broadcast of CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” host Howard Kurtz asked New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman just that question. According to Friedman, the jury is still out.

“Way too soon to tell that kind of thing, I think,” Friedman said. “I think if — look, what have I been calling for, you know, the president to have — I think there is, we just so desperately needed a grand bargain that involves restructuring of debt, raising of taxes, cutting of spending and investing in the sources of our strengths as a country from everything from infrastructure to government-funded research to education. It’s so clear that’s what we need. My personal frustration with Obama has been that while he certainly tried that grand bargain for a little bit, it just kind of went away. Well, it didn’t on the work. He said [House Speaker John] Boehner backed out. I don’t know who backed out.” 

Kurtz pointed out that Friedman had an unusual closeness with Obama as one of his golfing partners. Friedman said that was a benefit.

“Yeah, anytime you spend four hours with the president, either with a spoon in your hand or a golf club in your hand or nothing in your hand — you learn something,” Friedman said. “If he invites you to lunch — anytime you get a chance to talk to the president, in any context, I find incredibly beneficial.”

Yeah, Tom, sure.

Anyone who thinks the media even looked at Obama crosswise during the 2008 election cycle is either deluded or covering up…  or just incredibly uninformed.  The media covered up for him, literally, by burying stories that might have told some inconvenient truth about him, by substituting puff-pieces for actual investigative journalism, and by throwing up mud at his opponents, especially Sarah Palin.

John Ziegler’s movie Media Malpractice tells the whole story.  Here is info on how to get the DVD, or you can just catch it on Netflix.

Full disclosure:  I composed the music for the movie.  But I would not have done so if I hadn’t agreed with its message.

The remaining question:  will the media do any better in 2012?  I used to think they’d eventually become embarrassed by their non-performance of journalistic duty in 2008 and backtrack a bit.  But with the media continuing to release White House spin as news, I’m having my doubts about it.  I’d guess that even if Obama’s approval rating continues to nosedive, the media, who simply can’t stand a Republican (even a “center-right” one) in the White House, will still try to carry the flailing Obama over the finish line….  again.


Aug 22 2011

Have you seen this?

Category: election 2012,Obamaharmonicminer @ 12:06 am

Now, honestly, I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, or sling the end product of canine digestion at this particular website.

As the 2012 election begins, we know grassroots support will be more important than ever before. President Obama is working every day to keep making America stronger — and together we’ve got an opportunity to get his back.

Sign up for campaign updates and see how you can help build on our progress.

Join us in the fight to keep building a better, more prosperous America. Are you in?

 

Are you nuts?  Do you want to help Obama/Biden “Build on his progress”?  What progress would that be, exactly?  Impoverishing America for the next 50 years?  Alienating our allies and emboldening our enemies?

I guess we could call it hopeless change.

Whoever is writing this drivel has a tin ear for public opinion.

“A better, more prosperous America”?  I think I know how we can help that happen.

Regime change in 2012.

 

 

 


Aug 19 2011

Britain, R.I.P.? Part Seven

Category: government,guns,justice,left,liberty,societyharmonicminer @ 9:09 am

The previous post in this series is here.

Powerline has a brilliant article by Professor Malcolm from George Mason University Law School.  Normally, in these series, I don’t merely link, and I try to provide some original content and analysis.

But this article so perfectly captures the supine British attitude towards evil that I had to include it here.

 

 

 

 


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